The western boundary of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) follows the mean low water mark along the Queensland coast, excluding internal waters. Some inshore areas are State Marine Parks and some areas, such as ports, are not included in State or Commonwealth marine protected areas.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act1975 (the Act) provides limited scope to control catchment activities that produce run-off which, in turn, may degrade or damage the Great Barrier Reef. However, some power exists in the Act that provides for 'regulating or prohibiting acts (whether in the Marine Park or elsewhere) that may pollute water in a manner harmful to animals and plants in the Marine Park'.
Point source pollution is primarily controlled by Queensland state agencies through the Environmental Protection Act 1994 and Regulations, administered by the Queensland Environment Protection Agency (EPA), and the Water Act 2000, administered by the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines (DNRM). Local government regulations and plans may also have relevance to urban sources of pollution.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) came into effect in July 2000 and gives the Commonwealth Minister for Environment the power to regulate environmental impact assessment and the approval of activities, such as development. The EPBC Act is administered by Department of the Environment and Heritage.
Water quality has been identified by the GBRMPA as a critical issue for the management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Management of water quality is difficult as many of the activities causing the deterioration of water quality lie outside the boundaries of the GBRMP and involve complex institutional and jurisdictional arrangements.
The management of point source pollution for the GBRMP involves policy decisions such as sewage discharge standards, cooperative arrangements between government and industry to reduce inputs, case-by-case assessment and management of activities such as coastal developments and dredging.
The Authority's decision-making jurisdiction is generally limited to areas inside the GBRMP, however the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (Aquaculture) Regulations 2000,were introduced by the Commonwealth when the Queensland system for aquaculture management was not considered sufficiently robust to provide protection for the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem.
The commencement in April 1998 of the Queensland Integrated Planning Act 1997 has introduced major changes to the coordination of assessment and approval processes of State agencies and local governments. The GBRMPA has developed an informal relationship with the Queensland State government to act as an advice agency under an integrated development assessment system to ensure that issues affecting the GBRMP are considered in this assessment process.
The GBRMPA provides specialist advice on the referral, assessment and conditioning of approvals granted by Department of the Environment and Heritage for developments adjacent to the GBRMP.
In addition to its involvement in project specific impact assessment, the GBRMPA has also developed relationships with State and local governments in the preparation of planning frameworks such as Regional Coastal Management Plans and Local Government Planning Schemes. Through these planning instruments, State and local governments can increase the level of protection and management afforded to coastal resources, which in turn, assist in the protection and management of the Great Barrier Reef. Other areas of joint concern where the GBRMPA is working closely with local governments include the development of design standards and guidelines for stormwater drainage, wastewater treatment and marinas.
Non-point source discharge, is managed jointly by the Commonwealth and State governments through the arrangements outlined in the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan.
In June 2001, the Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Council, concerned with the trends in water quality directed the GBRMPA to prepare a Great Barrier Reef Catchment Water Quality Action Plan (the Action Plan). The objectives of the Action Plan included the identification of the major catchment-based threats to water quality in the Great Barrier Reef; identification of priority catchments and sub-catchments in terms of potential risks to the World Heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef; and the suggested specific water quality targets (including pollution loads and concentrations) for individual rivers and for reef water quality consistent with the ANZECC tropical marine guidelines. The Action Plan was released by the Commonwealth Minister for Environment and Heritage in September 2001.
On 13 August 2002, the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments recognised the importance of jointly addressing the issue by announcing a Memorandum of Understanding on developing a Reef Water Quality Protection Plan. Through the Plan, the Governments will act on the risk posed to the Great Barrier Reef from declining water quality. In particular, the Plan addresses diffuse sources of pollutants, which are the major source of pollution entering the Great Barrier Reef.
The initiative between the Commonwealth and State Governments recognises that the management of catchment pollution is primarily under the control of Queensland. Substantial funding by the Commonwealth and State Governments will be sourced from the Natural Heritage Trust and the National Action Plan for Salinity programs. These programs are the primary tools for the community in cooperation with Commonwealth and Queensland Governments to reduce catchment-based pollutant discharge. Under this strategy, local and State governments, land-holders and community and agricultural organisations join together to manage catchments on a whole-of-catchment basis. This process is now being progressively coordinated through regional Natural Resource Management (NRM) Boards that are developing regional NRM Plans. These plans will set out regional targets for salinity, water quality, water flows, and biodiversity, among others.
The Plan recognises that changes in land management introduced by some rural industries have helped to reduce the levels of sediment and nutrient run-off. The most notable examples are the green cane harvesting, trash blanketing and minimum tillage techniques in sugarcane cultivation. In rangeland grazing situations, fencing off streamlines to prevent cattle access and subsequent bank erosion and provision of off stream watering are being introduced, as well as the use of variable stocking strategies which seek to remove cattle from grazing lands before, and as drought conditions occur. Codes of practice and best management practices have also been developed for many agricultural industries to give direction on environmental issues related to the industry.
The Plan also recognises that wetlands and riparian vegetation protection are vital for the protection of the Great Barrier Reef as they ameliorate the impacts of run-off from catchments. Coastal wetlands disperse and slow the velocity of run-off, allowing entrained sediments and nutrients to settle out before they enter Great Barrier Reef waters. Preservation of remaining wetlands and riparian vegetation in the coastal zone adjacent to the World Heritage Area and the rehabilitation of degraded wetlands and riparian areas are therefore important to the management of Reef water quality.
Halting and reversing the decline in water quality entering the Reef within ten years.
- Reduce diffuse sources of pollutants in water entering the reef.
- Rehabilitate and conserve areas of the reef catchment that have a role in removing water borne pollutants.
Nine Key Strategies
A - Self Management Approaches
Industry, Governments and Communities working together to improve on current initiatives and to develop new practices.
- Property Resource Management Plans
- Statutory Covenants And Agreements
- Best Management Practice
- Environmental Management Systems
- Codes Of Practice
B - Education and Extension
Providing coordinated and integrated information to the community on all aspects of the water quality of the Great Barrier Reef.
- Utilise Indigenous information arrangements
- Education, Extension and trialing programs
- Regional NRM, catchment and property resource management planning
- Community-based water quality information collection programs
- Monitor and reduce chemical use
- Support property managers to protect riparian areas and wetlands
C - Economic Incentives
Providing economic incentives to achieve better environmental outcomes as well as achieving improved economic performance.
- Incentives for sustainable management practices and property level planning. (FarmBiz, EMS subsidy)
- Identify policies, incentives and schemes with a detrimental impact
- Investigate linking property resource management plans to incentives
- Trading in natural resource products
- Investigation of an offsets policy
- Philanthropic investment
D - Natural Resource Management and Land Use Planning
Better use of existing planning mechanisms to achieve improvements in land use planning and development decisions.
- Regional Coastal Management Plans
- Regional Vegetation Management Plans
- Agriculture Planning Scheme (APS)
- Review planning and statutory instruments
- Examine options to manage pesticide, herbicide and fertiliser use
- Nutrient Sensitive Zones
- Assessment of activities which impact on water quality
E - Regulatory Frameworks
Review, investigate and enhance aspects of existing legislation to ensure it supports protection of the reef water quality
- Draft Leasehold Strategy
- Wetlands Protection
- Development Assessment
F - Research and Information Sharing
Ongoing access to the best available scientific data
- Provide technical information
- Data collection and analysis
- Undertake research and development programs
- Review the herbicide Diuron
- ‘Fertiliser sales by catchment’ reporting system
G - Partnerships
Partnerships between Industry, Government and the Community are critical to improving the quality of water entering the Great Barrier Reef.
- Build on partnerships with indigenous communities
- Regional NRM Bodies
- Research organisations – CSIRO, AIMS, CRC
- Eco-efficiency Agreements
- Industry Sectors
H - Priorities and targets
A risk based approach to identify priority areas – to concentrate on protecting healthy waterways and to rehabilitate areas that require immediate action
- Water quality targets
- Prioritise catchments
- Identify “hotspots”
- Wetland and riparian rehabilitation
I - Monitoring and evaluation
Co-ordinated and integrated Monitoring Programs
- State–rivers and catchment
Heads of Agencies will provide reports on the progress towards the goals and objects of the Plan to the Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Council for consideration. In turn the GBR Ministerial Council will provide the reports with recommendations to the Prime Minister and Premier. The first report will be completed by 1 July 2005. This report will focus on whether satisfactory progress has been made towards the objectives. The second report will be prepared by 1 July 2010 detailing the extent of achievements against the objectives.